I grew up hearing rumors that awesome grown-up boys had invented this thing called a “LAN party”. At the time, if you wanted to play a 3D-ish video game, you could play on a videogame console or on a computer. Consoles plugged into your TV set, and had up to 4 controllers, so that was the most people you could have playing at the same time, and they each only got one quadrant of a low-resolution, fuzzy CRT screen.
Computer games were more advanced. You could play someone else by connecting to them directly using a modem, and then later (if you had an internet connection) you could play with more than 2 people by connecting to the same server. This was nice, since you got a screen all to yourself, but it had some limitations. I spent several frustrating evenings getting crushed in Age of Empires, which I blamed on the handicap of my 56K dialup connection against my friends’ new cable modems.
More importantly, it’s hard to taunt your foes when they’re across town. It’s way more fun to play games together in person … but laptops were still in their infancy. If you wanted to play a multiplayer computer game in the same room together, you had to drag your mid-tower, CRT, and peripherals to the host’s house. You also needed everyone to have ethernet ports (which were rare on consumer PCs), cables, a hub (or switch if you were really fancy), etc. Then you needed to configure the server and client software to communicate. It was quite an undertaking, although I think I may have tried to host one or two in high school.
Yesterday evening was a friend’s bachelor party. I knew he was a fan of computer games, and generally a big nerd, but I did not realize just how deep it went.
The party started off at a BattleTech arcade. (I think they’re better known as “MechWarrior”.) The arcade had 8 simulated cockpits, which provided a reasonably immersive experience with the door closed. Before each round, we chose our virtual war machine, and then spent 5 or 10 minutes (and $4 each) shooting at each other in the virtual world. I was terrible, of course.
The simulators were fancy pieces of hardware, with 5 displays, two foot pedals, a joystick, throttle, and probably a dozen different buttons. The guts, however, were clearly dated, with software that was probably unchanged from the last MechWarrior PC game 13 years ago.
In a sense, this was just a dressed-up LAN party.
After BattleTech, the eight of us headed to two dudes’ house for the next phase of the party. I shouldn’t have been surprised, on arrival, to find the dining room tables covered in a mix of full-size desktop and gaming laptops. They had been assembled, I learned, for the express purpose of playing League of Legends all night, which is precisely what we did. We played the new Ultra Rapid Fire mode, in which the optimal strategy is basically to mash all the buttons over and over as fast as possible.
I was, of course, also terrible at this. It was good fun.